Occupational therapists are calling for an end to a "high volume, low cost" approach to social care, which they say leaves many older people missing out on vital services.
A new report from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists said providing the right care initially can prevent the need for more expensive longer-term care.
The study pointed to inequality in access to occupational therapy, which helps people continue with everyday tasks such as dressing, washing or getting to the shops.
While people may need intense support at home to start with and adaptations to their home, this need can often diminish as the person becomes more capable, it said.
The authors also call for more occupational therapists to be employed within primary care, such as GP surgeries, to help older people adapt to ageing, increasing frailty and health problems.
Julia Scott, chief executive of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, said in her foreword: "At the heart of our recommendations is evidence that doing the right thing for individuals can actually reduce their need for expensive care long-term.
"Too often, councils tell people what social care service they will get, based on what it is most efficient to provide, instead of asking what they really need.
"This gap between the service people get and the services they really want leads to costs arising elsewhere; for example, a costly hospital admission as a result of a fall by a gentleman who wanted to get up at 8am when the council could only arrange a carer visit at 10am."
She said that rather than seeing a person as whole, social care services often see a "set of care needs which need to be addressed".
She added: "Because of their unique set of skills, occupational therapists are perfectly placed to change this."
Alex Hayman, managing director of public markets at Which?, said: "People's individual needs must be central to decisions about the type of care that they receive.
"Worryingly, this report indicates that care and assistance is not being tailored enough to best support those who need it.
"We welcome the work that the College is doing to raise awareness of the impact this has on vulnerable individuals, which must now be addressed as a priority."
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said: "With an increasing elderly population and decreasing budgets for care, as a society we must seek to do the best we can for everyone who needs care - not just the bare minimum.
"As this research shows, early intervention can help people stay in their own homes, continue with social activities - and save money in the longer term.
"Surely this is a no-brainer? It's time to change the mindset on care to treat the person, not a set of needs."
Izzi Seccombe, health spokeswoman for the Local Government Association, said: "The Government is in the process of drawing up its plans for the promised consultation on proposals for reform in social care.
"This report is important material for these consultations.
"Councils stand alongside the NHS, charities and care providers in their call for Government to work out a long-term funding solution, and we need a series of proposals that works out how best to share the costs of care between the individual and the state, if we are to get serious about social care.
"In particular, we need to work out whether or not the cost should be met only by those who require care, or whether it should be shared more broadly."